( from "What I Think" )
commentary - 07.03.19
As a fallen idol Michael Jackson’s lasting contribution might be cautionary, a lesson not about sexuality, a much more complex issue to address, but about the way we live, tethered to ridiculous platforms inhabited by bloated public figures, mesmerised by image and wealth and the thought that with just a small twist of the wheel we could be up there with them. It’s a foolish notion and is the one that lies at the heart of this tragic tale.
music - 11.08.18
There were many records made where the back-roomers were as integral to the work as the performers themselves who, from Bowie to Britney, from Ga-Ga to Elton John, are essentially brands. This is not to take away from their majesty. It's to say that their recordings were collaborations involving teams of other often equally gifted individuals, but who could find themselves reduced to supplicants, sometimes barely even name-checked for their essential contributions.
relationships - 31.05.18
Perhaps love isn’t so much about love after all but something else entirely. Perhaps it’s tethered to the price we pay as primates for inhabiting huge societies when we are evolved for living in much smaller numbers. These mass populations being too big for our tribal minds we settle for a trade-off resulting in the exclusive family on the one hand (micro-tribe) and the instrumental society on the other (macro-tribe). Unfortunately, and at great cost, this trade-off compromises our predisposition toward authentic community. Whatever the moral imperatives, you can’t love a million people. You can’t even love a hundred. You have to focus on the few and relegate the rest.
commentary - 06.04.17
The move from talk to text is dubious mainly because humans, like it or not, are animals physical at root, the product of millions of years of evolved person-to-person existence. What might be called “virtuality” is the ability to communicate in the abstract, using the mind to map words and numbers on to experience. This emerged as a spoken activity then slowly advanced to writing. Going from the actual to the virtual in this way has been enormously successful for us and is now essential to our mental apparatus. But…
commentary - 02.12.16
Brexit will consume the British government for the next decade and beyond while a small army of civil servants revisits thousands of settled agreements for no guaranteed benefit. America has chosen for its president an amateur posing as an outlier. My view is that the systems of both societies are big enough to contain these dislocations. But in truth no one really knows for sure. The consequences could be benign. They could also be ruinous.
music - 12.01.16
It was Bowie’s final flush that resonated as much as anything he’d done hitherto. The Day After in 2013 was quite something, Blackstar something else, a swan-song album where the artist surpassed himself. Over Christmas 2015 the pre-release tracks were to be savoured in anticipation of the full record to follow. When it came in January I listened with a sense of celebration that a rock musician in his twilight could still be cutting it so. To learn he had terminal cancer throughout its making was astonishing. That he would be gone forty-eight hours later seemed almost surreal. With typical aplomb he had managed to turn his end into an art event.
relationships - 08.09.15
I began to understand myself more as a material being. I saw that all humans are cut from the same cloth, all are animals with animal needs whatever the moral codes. I pictured culture as veneer on top of a near infinite physical, chemical and biological reality. Such a realisation wasn’t depressing. It was just a healthy disillusionment, part of a process of observing things as they are rather than how I imagined them to be. Knowledge was replacing belief, mindfulness in all but name.
commentary - 12.09.14
For long enough there had been little call for Scottish independence. Outside of agitators and political types, a vocal minority, few cared much about it. It is questionable whether the SNP did either, happy to kick the issue into touch for a while, able to enjoy its first taste of real power with a majority government, a strong leader and a massive grant to spend on popular policies of its choosing. That’s not a bad job to have especially for politicians who had spent their careers in the margins.
music - 17.07.14
Science advanced exponentially with the embracing of ignorance. It was by being open to the unknown and accepting the possibility of new knowledge that progress happened. I’ve noticed a similar thing with music. The more open and non-judgemental I’ve become alongside having less of a need for tribal allegiance and cultural endorsement, the more my love of the art-form has grown. This is a kind of inverse theory of appreciation: judge less to appreciate more.
commentary - 10.02.14
Modern systems of law are supposed to counter the tendency to apportion blame without evidence. When the massive machinery of a state prosecutor imposes itself on individuals the burden of proof is set high with accusations scrupulously subject to the rational laying out of facts as far as that is possible. The case against Knox and Sollecito in Perugia failed to do that. But hey, no matter, that girl looked like she might be guilty, she acted a bit weird so she probably is. From conviction to acquittal, to acquittal quashed, to conviction again, to final acquittal. An Italian fiasco!
commentary - 02.06.13
In my experience sexually accomplished women are relatively rare. It’s hardly surprising given the shaming that goes with it. But when they have such a gift they have it in the manner of a talented artist. I think to possess erotic attributes which manifest in this way is indeed, like artistry, one of humanity’s treasures. Yet society for its own ends, puritanical and controlling, has succeeded in taking something that might be exalted and rendered it transgressive. It’s a sad case and one that’s a long way from being addressed.
relationships - 17.03.13
I make the point once again that slavish adherence to monogamy is a costly business. Expecting people to be sexually faithful to one singular relationship for decades on end is unrealistic. To break up families with all their histories, duties and commitments every time there is an infidelity is madness. People need to get used to the idea that the statistical likelihood is fairly high that the person they marry will have sex with someone else at some point in their future. To turn the world upside down every time it happens is woefully immature. I’m not saying it's always easy to endure. Just that it’s a fact of human relationships. There are many hard facts tough to endure which are handled with better fortitude and more intelligence.
commentary - 14.10.12
In the aftermath of Jimmy Savile and the subsequent idiot response I might draw attention to the folly of too much finger-pointing and counsel that a bad reaction to a bad event can be as damaging to society as the bad event itself. Jung was instructive here and warned against scapegoating which is a long established psychological phenomenon in human behaviour with its own sinister pathology. When an individual or a group is being singled out as especially depraved we need to be suspicious. It is invariably a driver of further degenerate behaviour. This is not to suggest that sexual abuse is trivial or that Savile was innocent. It is to say that human sexuality is complicated and arcane. It is also a reminder that much abuse still happens within families and not in the public space by some deranged guy in a raincoat or indeed by a man with a stupid haircut in a shell-suit.
The structures that grew up in support of successful creative work were elite structures. Even just being party to them was some kind of success in itself. If you had a recording contract say, or a book deal or a commission of any kind, if you had some signed agreement with a major player, you were already among the chosen few with a prospect of wider recognition. The very fact of getting that far was a thing worth coveting; you had gotten lucky, your work was being elevated by fact of selection by society’s arbiters; you were on the platform, historically a rather difficult space to get to. That’s how it was. The audience was the mass and the creators were the elect. Things might be changing now.
commentary - 07.10.12
I was lucky being an early sceptic about politics and religion therefore never had to suffer much disillusionment there. Had I been a staunch supporter of this or that movement, a believer in the great myths of antiquity, a follower of some influential creed, then cynicism might have been the consequence of a lifetime of disappointments when humanity in its myriad ways didn’t live up to its own promise. As it happens I’m not overly cynical, even about politics, quite grateful actually that liberalism still prevails in our time. Although it took a while we have been fairly well served by it. Being sceptical about leaders and their narratives is an important part of its process.
commentary - 20.08.12
Measured as a percentage of the human population to die from violence, Steve Pinker says the modern era is by far the most peaceful ever, even allowing for the terrible wars of the 20th Century. But I wondered if percentages weren’t misleading. If a shooting breaks out in a room of 20 people and 5 are killed, that’s 25% dead. If it was 100 people with 10 killed, that’s 10% dead. Which is the more violent? The one with higher numbers dead surely, yet with the lower percentage. I was able to put the point to Pinker via a Guardian journalist who was conducting an interview with him and asked if absolute numbers could also have been factored into the book’s argument. He was rather dismissive saying that percentages were the only useful measure and that it didn’t make sense to use absolute numbers. I wasn’t convinced.
relationships - 30.06.12
Historically everyone had to subscribe to family mores. Those who weren’t properly hitched were virtual outcasts – orphans, bastards, spinsters, loners etc., all terrible terms to describe a brutal kind of social ostracising. Given that things are different now and changing markedly, given that a significant percentage of people live not in a traditional family, not in an exclusive relationship, in same sex unions, as single or unmarried parents, given that there are many lifestyle choices all quite legitimate and vying for place, it is inappropriate to show favour to these same old conventions. Doing so amounts to one faction gaining position over another, believing itself to have some kind of moral supremacy.
A transformed environment for the funding and flourishing of the arts is a speculative notion. But speculation and innovation are bedfellows and their progress is not always helped by analysis, especially from conservatives cleaving to convention. All true innovation operates in virgin territory. That was the case with publishing, with the record business, with broadcasting, with computers and the Internet. It will be so for the future of music too. No one knows how that will evolve over coming decades. Those who shape the future rarely picture it.
commentary - 01.05.12
The Scotland football team went to the World Cup finals in 1978 on a wave of jumped-up optimism and encouraged by a support that was delusional enough to believe they might bring home the trophy. There was even a top-ten single inspired by the misplaced triumphalism of the team’s manager. The musicians did a lot better than the footballers who, true to form, were knocked out in the first round.
commentary - 15.01.12
The Nationalist government in Scotland has put independence on the table. It should be appreciated right away that nationalism and independence are not synonymous. Unlike nationalism, independence is a worthy endeavour, a state of mind before anything else. It can be tough to achieve for individuals and nations alike, requiring an attitude that is outgoing and open to risk. In my experience the majority of Scots are not of a naturally independent temperament. They tend to be overly conservative, playing safe while cleaving to their kin consistent with old clannish mores. I suspect that when asked they will reject calls for a separatist Scotland.
music - 01.08.11
Winehouse was too much the waster. Clearly she had a musical spark and could come up with back-of-the-envelope song sketches. But a crafter she was not. She depended on the talents of producer types who have the staying power for artistry. Mariah and Britney were constantly marked down for needing substantial input from others. There’s nothing wrong with that. But let’s not forget Amy Winehouse was not a self-contained artist either. Like Lily Allen she caught an early break and became part of a successful team. Any talent can have a hit record with some luck but having the mettle to build a career against the trials and pitfalls, to take the knocks and scrapes, to endure the meltdowns and failures, to live with the attendant emotional problems, the difficult relationships, to endure all that and still perform, still produce, still be able to bring the house down, that’s the real deal, that’s the true artist.
music - 20.07.11
You don’t have to read into the lyric of Imagine too much to get to John Lennon’s thoughts. He wasn’t making the case for a lion and lamb utopia as is sometimes supposed. He was too sardonic for that. He thought that if our constructs were imagined entities they could be re-imagined or simply abandoned. He also thought that humanity might come to live in harmony. In short: imagine there's no bullshit! Or in more prosaic terms: adopt better beliefs and try to be peaceful; it’s not so hard to do.
commentary - 18.07.11
The extent of the phone-hacking came as no surprise. The junk journalists are always over the line anyway. And the idea that the bosses didn’t know is laughable. There is a sense of comeuppance about the whole business. That they hadn’t been stopped before now was a serious omission. The “last chance saloon” was many miles back.
relationships - 08.07.11
It would be a mark of cultural maturity if a new lexicon were to evolve for talking about sex. But before that is possible maybe people need to be more at ease with their sexuality in general, better able to discuss and disclose and find expression that actually points to the richness of the experience rather than the embarrassment. These terms don’t have to be slang. Somewhere between the bawdy and the prim lies a fertile breeding ground. In the world of Sex And The City, somewhere between Samantha and Charlotte.
commentary - 24.06.11
It is questionable whether society’s attempts at redress following an atrocity help the victims much. They may often add further injury. As a barrister defending the legal process said: the justice system is not about catharsis, it is there to serve society and its best ends. That these ends often don’t work in the interests of individuals is nothing unusual. Disappointing but not unusual. That being so, people should understand that the way to come to terms with a damaging event is probably not through structured processes.
music - 01.06.11
That this tired old shorn-of-empire country still steeped in its Victorian heritage could produce such as Lennon alongside a raft of imitators like me is a remarkable fact in itself worthy of examination. I suspect there are many my age who still keep their inner Mick alive, who think they could have rivalled Clapton with the right breaks. Yes I might be a tad sniffy about rockers but for all their excesses they seriously left a mark. It was something of a privilege to have lived through their time, a time when youth had a really potent voice.
personal - 29.05.11
It’s pathetic to think of oneself as a misunderstood visionary. If I was ever to act like that I’d appreciate a slap. That’s not to say that there aren’t people who look to a bigger picture (I do) and even on occasion might actually bring that picture into play (I fail miserably). And although it may be that often the visionaries are indistinguishable from the nutters howling at the moon, between the crazies and the gods are many ordinary idealists who contemplate better possibilities.
personal - 26.11.10
At least when you make your own art for free and it gets rejected it is still your art and you still have it. When your creativity as a studio guy gets absorbed into someone else’s work it is all but lost. Sometimes you are barely even credited. I think I would have felt better about that had I been paid a fair fee consistent with other professional services. But rarely does that happen. Painters who decorate and singers who teach are paid more than studio guys.
commentary - 18.08.09
An indifference to the arts is mirrored by the majority of Scots' indifference to their capital city. Its Anglified sniffy-ness is way too stuck-up for them and smacks of a bad attitude, lofty and superior. I don’t mind that so much. There’s something quaint in its old affectations. And anyway, the Edinburgh character is more withstanding than in other parts of the country. Like the English: softer on the surface, tougher at the core.
commentary - 05.11.08
I’m not that far discouraged to get nothing positive from the new president. At least Barack Obama can make a speech which the previous guy seemed incapable of doing, an astonishing defect in a senior politician, like a singer who can’t sing or a footballer who can’t kick. Surely a leader should be able to stand up and be impressive with words. Obama is certainly that, and that I do admire. That his acceptance speech borrowed style from the call and response of the Black church was clever, itself indicating a sense of potential culture shift in public life. I wondered if we might see more of such a shift.
commentary - 28.11.07
Historically, having a partner was essential. A woman without a man was like a man without a job. The man may not have liked his job but did it anyway of necessity. The woman may not have liked her man but stood by him. It wasn't him that was so crucial, it was what he represented. It was about what the status of having him entailed together with his position in the world. In a patriarchal society men are the conduit for women's legitimacy. Unfortunately, despite appearances to the contrary, it too often remains the case.
personal - 24.02.95
For the first time I began to feel for Irish history. As circumstance would have it this is just when the country verges on constitutional change which could bring some resolution to its old and troubled politics. This caused me to reflect on the Scots and wonder, also for the first time, if after all we've been inhibited by an allegiance to the English when we too have a distinct history together with many of the facets that qualify for nationhood.